How do I ensure my teams are building accessible products for our clients?

The IDC estimates that 40% of all technology spending will go towards digital transformation during 2019. Consulting firms and digital agencies are leading the way in supporting businesses to deliver that change. One key area of digital transformation that can easily be missed by leaders in these organisations is accessibility. Prof Jonathan Hassell estimates between 20% and 40% of customers may have a temporary or permanent need for digital products to be more accessible and inclusive.

Without it, clients may be missing key customers if the user experience is poor for them, and as a result the business risks litigation that may rebound on you, their vendor.

I’m a Product Manager, and I’ve been working recently with Hassell Inclusion. I talked to CEO Jonathan Hassell about how consulting firms and digital agencies can ensure they aren’t missing out on accessibility.

Jonathan is extremely experienced in his field. When working for the BBC, he ensured that accessibility requirements were a core part of their tendering process. “For one £150m project, at the supplier day, I was the first speaker after the introduction and explained the criticality of accessibility for our audience.” He explains, “This was a shock to most of the vendors, and  resulted in a number of vendors not putting in proposals for commissions. Of the 25, about only half were able to change the way they worked to meet the BBC’s accessibility needs. They were the ones that got the commissions.”

Since then he’s been committed to not just making digital products accessible but ensuring that teams that create those products understand how to deliver accessibility efficiently.

Q. As a leader, how can you be sure your team is baking in accessibility in your solutions?

The key to this is making accessibility a key competence within your agency, and part of the process early on in every digital project. It’s a differentiator to make great designs work irrespective of the user’s abilities or disabilities. Careful ‘inclusive design’ has the knock-on benefit of making the whole product easier to use, rather than giving a special, and often inferior experience, for people who need reasonable adjustments.

Imagine you are coming to a proposal where the client has asked you to explain your accessibility approach to creating their website or mobile app AND that your digital team have clear training and understanding of accessibility in design, development, testing and maintenance. What’s your response?

  • Do you feel confident that you have a clear and consistent answer for this proposal?
  • Do you feel confident that your team can make the pragmatic decisions in design that prevent costly rework after an accessibility audit later in development?
  • Is your approach relevant for internal (employee focussed) solutions, business to business, and business to consumer digital products?

Jonathan mentioned that one of Hassell Inclusion’s clients had had an agency working with them for two years, and accessibility was specified in the contract. However, when we ran a compliance audit with them, they realised that there were core accessibility issues with the design and code that had been delivered. This resulted in red faces at the agency and uncomfortable commercial and legal conversations between them and their client.

Q. So how do you delight your customer, and prevent potentially costly surprises in development?

Hassell Inclusion have developed an approach that we call our five keys. They give a structure to build the competence in a consulting firm or digital agency, and give the leadership the relevant results to keep the business on track:

The first is Expanding Awareness. Use team awaydays and leadership meetings to explain the value of inclusion to the business, both legally, ethically and in terms of ROI. Explain the client benefit and the risks if the business misses this.

Second is Embedding Strategy. I passionately believe in ambassadors, they help drive change and accountability in the business. Make someone responsible for accessibility in your product and services, both internally and externally. Develop an action plan to update policies, revise your proposal toolkits, develop in-house skills across your digital teams, and work out how to use your enhanced capability as a USP in sales.

Thirdly is Enable Process. Embed accessibility into your requirements, design, development and testing methods and tools. Put training in place to support the teams in what they need to do: leadership, project/product managers, UX/UI designers, developers and content developers. And give them the coaching, mentoring and support to help them apply their new skills.

Fourth? Measure Effects. This can often be overlooked but it’s really important! You need to know the changes you’re making are making a difference. How do you check that every solution has included accessibility? Can you measure whether there’s been an impact on win rate, or client satisfaction? You need to check the ROI of your investment in accessibility to know its value to your organisation.

Finally, number five: Continually Evolve. Make sure that accessibility delivery continues in spite of staff turnover, and is baked into the maintenance of any solution.

Q. Where do I start? What’s my first step?

I’d recommend reviewing with your development teams whether accessibility is being baked into your products already. A live audit provides an expert one-day hands-on review of your product’s accessibility with your team.  Then define an owner within the organisation to move things forward. Jonathan’s books on Inclusive Design provide lots of practical steps to building accessibility competence in your consulting practice or agency.

Finally, if you’re a Product Manager like me, and you don’t know how to lead your team to delivering accessibility as one of the values of the digital products you’re creating, Hassell Inclusion’s Delivering Accessible Products training may answer all the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. There are some courses coming up soon. I’d highly recommend them.

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